Author's Note:

Maybe all I needed was to remember enjoying this story again…

Chapter Twelve: A Near Miss

Monday, march 17, 2014

There hasn't been much to report lately. We practiced meditation on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoon, and Leila said she'd practice on the weekend. She should be ready to work with her power using her mind today. We'll try, at least.

I'm not so nervous for her tests. We've decided that she'll go first, because let's face it: who's more dangerous if they lose control? A girl who can control shadows (which cannot physically harm people) or a girl who can control the elements (which have physically harmed people)? Clearly the answer is the latter. I'll still be in the clearing when she uses her powers so that I can tell her what she did when she's done. But even if she is able to control her power, I might still get dangerous results; after all, all minds work differently. I had trouble sleeping last night because I'm so curious about what will happen. I've been calculating the possibilities over and over, and I just don't know anymore. I can't think straight when it comes to probability. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Maria

Much of the snow had melted over the past week due to an unusual heat wave. As a result, the clearing was covered in mud when the girls entered it on Monday, a condition which hindered their plans to sit and meditate. They had brought garbage bags to sit on, but it was evident that they would not be helpful in the least.

The girls studied the ground for a few moments, then Layla suggested, "we could sit on rocks."

They had been searching the surrounding area for suitable seats for a few minutes with no luck when Maria came up with an idea. "Hey Leila," she called to her friend across the clearing. "I might be able to fix this in a different way." She knelt, placed her hands on the ground, and called on her power. She could feel the earth, but she could also feel the layer of water on top of it. She sent out a wave of power, which she instructed to herd the water toward the riverbed. She heard a loud sucking sound, but she didn't open her eyes to see if her plan was working. She could feel the progress she was making through her hands, so she kept pushing out small ripples of power until she was satisfied. She stopped after a minute or so, opening her eyes to see how it looked. The ground on her side of the river was completely smooth and dry. The dirt on the other side was a different story, but that wasn't her concern. Maybe she could fix that when her power was hooked up to her mind, she pondered.

Leila shrugged, walked to the middle of the newly-dried space, and sat cross-legged on the ground. "Here goes nothing," she muttered to herself. She closed her eyes and began to take deep breaths. She relaxed every muscle in her body, then shut down her mundane thoughts. Once she was completely relaxed, she called on her power and connected it to her mind. Meanwhile, Maria moved to the edge of the clearing and positioned herself near the thickest clump of trees. If something went wrong, she reasoned, she might have a better chance of defending herself.

Suddenly, she was in a magical new world where she could sculpt whatever she wanted. She was in complete control of what happened around her, as she had no wandering thoughts for her power to try its best to fulfill. Even better, she was not confined to working in one particular place. She stretched her mental fingers, and all the shadows in the clearing stretched and shifted as well. She took another deep breath and began to weave.

Maria was absolutely astonished. The air around her was alive with shifting shapes. One moment they would form an intricate pattern, the next they would form a scene. This would probably be any artist's dream, she realized as she watched. Leila was moving all the shadows at once, but she showed no signs of strain.

One moment Maria was watching the shadows' beautiful dance, the next her vision went grey, then dark. The shadows had converged on her, she realized with dread. What if Leila was wrong and the shadows really could hurt people? She dared not move. She slowly began to relax as, after a few moments, nothing further happened. Most of the shadows returned to where they had been, but the ones Leila had put around Maria stayed in place.

Then she heard it: two sets of footsteps were making their way through the woods. And Leila was still in the center of the clearing, in plain sight of anyone who got close enough. If they asked her why she was there, what could she say? She was still deep in her meditation, so she was probably still unaware of the danger. One thing ran through Maria's mind: she could not let them see Leila.

When Maria heard the whoosh of power through her ears, she began panicking anew. She had not consciously summoned the power, and her mind was not cleared–she would not be any more in control of what happened than she had been almost two weeks before, especially as she was coherent enough to identify that the power was hooked to her mind.

With a gesture that reminded Maria of a hug, the wind scooped Leila off the ground and sent her flying toward Maria. Leila's body instantly stiffened and she curled herself into a tight ball. That was good, Maria thought. She was coming out of her meditative state.

Leila's body landed softly beside Maria in the shadows she'd created. She opened her eyes a moment later, realizing that she was safe and noting her new position. She looked up at Maria, questions in her eyes. When she opened her mouth, the other girl shook her head frantically and put her finger to her lips.

A moment later, the owners of the two pairs of footsteps came into view. A man and woman, both in their mid-twenties, stepped off the path and into the clearing. The man was carrying a large picnic basket. The woman didn't look too happy about being in the clearing, but the man didn't seem to notice as he spread the blanket on the ground. The ground that was perfectly dry and smooth on only one side of the river.

Maria looked down at Leila. "Let's go," she mouthed. Leila stood as softly as she could, and together they crept from the clearing. They watched their every step, making sure that no twigs would crack under their weight and alert the couple to their presence.

When they were far enough away, they looked at each other with wide eyes. Maria didn't know what to think. That had been an extremely close call. If that ever happened in the future, would they be as lucky? If they were caught by someone without a gift, at least one person would get hurt. The non-gifted person would likely tell someone, which would either lead to an in-depth psychological examination or a government testing facility. On the other hand, between the two of them they should be able to protect themselves if the need ever arose.

Leila and Maria reached the car a few minutes later. As they pulled out of the parking spot, they finally let out twin sighs of relief. They'd gotten out safely, hopefully without having raised suspicion.

Maria only spoke once they'd exited the neighborhood. "Do you want a coffee?"

Leila looked at her weirdly for a second. How could she think about coffee when that had just happened? Maria answered her unspoken question: "I don't know about you, but that scared the hell out of me. I can't go home like this."

Leila was as frazzled by the situation as Maria was, so she nodded her agreement. "True enough."

Maria pulled into a parking spot downtown. The girls exited the car and walked down the street toward the coffee shop.

"I want to forget that ever happened, but I don't think that's possible, nor is it a good idea," Maria told Leila as she pulled the glass door open.

"Agreed," Leila nodded. "This is clearly more dangerous than we thought. We'll have to be much more careful in the future."

"Especially because that's the most secluded spot I can think of," Maria added, lowering her voice as they reached the back of the line. "There's nowhere safer to go unless we drive way out of the city. We don't really have time to do that on a week day, and vanishing like that both days of the weekend will only raise suspicion in a different way."

"One of us will just have to keep watch while the other practices," Leila concluded. "It's not ideal, but it seems to be the best option until we can learn to split our focus between practicing and watching our surroundings."

"That will have to be our first priority then," Maria agreed grimly.